In a world in which NEWS usually means BAD NEWS, this heartwarming story appeared a couple of weeks ago in the New York Times. On Tuesday I gave an example of how writers find their ideas. This one comes ready-made. I'm hoping Hallie will show it to her sister Nora, who would be the perfect person to turn it into a movie (and Nora, I only want a small thank you in the credits!)
When Elizabeth Goodyear died late last month, at 103, a handful of friends, all more than two generations younger, sat vigil. They toasted her over dark chocolate, the elixir Ms. Goodyear had savored daily since she was 3 years old, and Champagne, a more recent favorite.
Two years ago, a front-page article in The New York Times featured Ms. Goodyear, a lifelong lover of books, and the small group of people who would stop by her apartment, in Murray Hill, to read to her after she lost her sight. Those readers became a family to Ms. Goodyear, who had outlived her relatives and loved ones.
It all began about seven years ago, after Alison West, a yoga instructor who lives in Ms. Goodyear’s building, posted a sign seeking readers in yoga studios downtown and sent an e-mail that was forwarded again and again.
“Liz has no family at all, and all her old friends have died, but she remains eternally positive and cheerful and loves to have people come by to read to her or talk about life, politics, travel — or anything else,” the message read. “She also loves good chocolate!”
Alison West Elizabeth Goodyear, shortly after her death, Sept. 23.
Young women in their 20s, many of them Ms. West’s students, started to visit. It evolved from there.
After Ms. Goodyear was featured in The Times, her circle widened. At first, there were letters and packages, including a box of dark chocolate from the New York Times Op-Ed columnist Maureen Dowd. (Ms. Goodyear, a newshound, was thrilled.)
A Brooklyn couple who had read the article began visiting regularly with their dog. Distant relatives who were unaware that Ms. Goodyear was still living got in touch: Robert Goodyear, who said he was her fifth cousin, came several times from Pennsylvania, always bearing chocolates.
Nadia Bowers, an actress, contacted one of the readers quoted in The Times on Facebook, asking to be put in touch with Ms. Goodyear. Ms. Bowers wanted to know if Ms. Goodyear, who wrote plays, would be interested in having one of her plays read to her — only 2 of the 20 plays she wrote or collaborated on had made it to the stage. Last winter, five actors gathered in Ms. Goodyear’s living room to read “Final Chukkah,” a play she wrote in 1941 that portrayed a love triangle and treated bisexuality as commonplace.
For Ms. Goodyear, it was the highlight of her year, Ms. West said. For Ms. West, it was a striking reminder of Ms. Goodyear’s candor and forward thinking.
For Ms. Bowers, who has performed on Broadway, it was a rare opportunity to hear about the world of theater in the 1920s. “It was really wonderful to hear about a different time and when theater was a different thing in New York,” Ms. Bowers said. “There was an innocence about it. You waited in line in front of the Broadway theater itself to meet the producer. It was fun picturing a 20-something-year-old Liz, saying, ‘Hey, Mister, are you going to see me or what?’ ”
On Sept. 23, Ms. Goodyear died quietly in the rent-controlled apartment she had lived in for 60 years. With labored breath, she managed to take two sips of Champagne right beforehand. “I asked her if she’d like a sip and she whispered yes,” Ms. West said.
Later that night, Ms. West and four of Ms. Goodyear’s other friends, readers who got hooked many years ago, sat vigil. They decorated her body with six dozen red and white roses, forming a halo.
“For a long time we sat in silence, and then we exchanged thoughts,” Ms. West said. “We also laughed.”
Stephanie Sandleben, 32, a tattooed yoga instructor, reminisced about one of her last conversations with Ms. Goodyear, in which they had traded tales of losing their virginity as teenagers.
In an interview, Ms. Sandleben recalled how her worries would evaporate during visits with Ms. Goodyear, “because I’d realize the long-view perspective that someone can only have when they’re 103.”
So a word to those writers who wonder about running out of ideas--keep scanning the newspapers. There are stories waiting to be told every day!